296 B. POLEVOI
soul with melancholy repose. The problem of sleeping
quarters had been solved. He was to make his first combat
flight in the morning. He was paired with Petrov—he,
Meresyev, to be leader. How would it work out? He
seemed a nice lad. Marina had fallen in love with him at
first sight. Well, he'd better get some sleep!
He turned over on his side, rustled the straw for a bit
and fell fast asleep.
He woke up feeling that something terrible had hap-
pened. He did not realise at once what it was, but with
the soldier's instinct he jumped up and clutched his pistol.
He could not tell where he was. A cloud of acrid smoke
that smelt like garlic enveloped everything; and when the
cloud was blown away by the wind he looked up and saw
strange, huge stars glittering brightly over his head. It
was as light as in broad daylight and he could see the logs
of the hut scattered like matches, the displaced roof, jut-
ting beams and some shapeless thing burning a little way
off. He heard groans, the undulating roar of aircraft
engines and the dreadful whine of dropping bombs.
"Down!" he yelled to Petrov who was kneeling on the
stove-ledge that towered above the ruins and looking
wildly around him.
They dropped flat on the bricks and pressed their bodies
against them. In that instant a large bomb splinter struck
the chimney and a shower of red dust and dry clay rained
down upon them.
"Don't move! Lie still!" commanded Meresyev, sup-
pressing a desire to jump up and run, no matter where, so
long as he could be on the move, the desire that every man
feels during a night air raid.
The bombers could not be seen. They were circling in
the darkness high above the flares they had dropped. But
in the flickering, glaring light the bombs could be distinctly
seen plunging into the zone of light like black drops and,
visibly increasing in size, hurtle to the ground and shoot
red flames into the darkness of the summer night. It seemed
as though the earth was splitting up and roaring.
The airmen clung to the stove, which swayed and trem-
bled with every explosion. They pressed their bodies,
cheeks and legs to the ledge, trying to flatten themselves,
to merge with the bricks. The droning of the engines died